“LENGANE IYADELELA! How dare he come into our family without any elders from his house? Who does he think he is? Looking someone’s mother in the eye and telling that rubbish!” My girlfriend’s grandmother was breathing fire and brimstone. Yes fam, the wheels of my flaming ‘I want to do right’ chariot had come off and I had a mouthful of dust. Family members who a kraal full of beef. In deciding to go represent myself in the case of Family vs. Baby Daddy, I had pissed off many on both sides of the families. Unfortunately for gran though, by the time she heard, I had already spoken to my girlfriend’s mother.
Baby Momma and I had rocked up at her mother’s house the day after we spoke to my parents. Her dad wasn’t there (see previous post on Black Father Syndrome). I was neat with a jacket on. All respect everything. She must smelt it in the air that was something up. She kept leaving the house and running endless errands, leaving me and her daughter marinating in our own guilt-juice. We were there for hours but eventually we had our meeting in the lounge, just the 3.1 of us.
My girlfriend, with a skew smile like the wrap-around grin I had with my parents, broke the news. Mother dearest kept quiet with a face that said so much yet said nothing at all. When my girlfriend finished she tagged me and it was my turn in the ring. I broke down my master plan, a projection of the next two years. I detailed what I intended to do about everything from logistics, hospitals and medical aids, funded by the ashes that were my dream car. I wished I could go on talking forever because I was petrified of what would happen when I finished. But, alas, my vocabulary failed me. There was a long, tense silence. For a long time she didn’t say anything. Then, her lips quivered. My heart rammed into my throat. “I am proud that YOU are the father of this child. Thank you for respecting me enough to tell me yourself.” A strange smile had cracked across her face and her words sounded surreal. All cells in my body nearly collapsed. That was that, no beef, no shouting.
But, this wouldn’t a proper soapy without a scandal right? My girlfriend is part Zulu and part Motswana. I am part Xhosa, Motswana, a few milliliters Afrikaans and an ounce Coloured. This makes cultural practices very interesting. Now that everyone knew about my bun in her oven it was now time for the next part. Paying damages. In many cultures in South Africa there is the practice of paying reparations to the family of a woman whom you have impregnated out of wedlock. In isiZulu it’s called “ukuhlaola”. Modern society has dubbed it “paying damage”.
I knew it was coming and I was prepared, sort of. That is, until my mother mentioned that she thought that the expectation for me to pay was dubious. She explained to me her understanding of how this aspect of culture originated. According to her, if the family of an ex-maiden suspected that the father-to-be would not stick around to take care for his seed then, and only then, they order him to pay. Since I had shown all intentions of manning up, my mother didn’t see why I had to pay. Could it be the family was looking for a quick buck? Put your fresh popcorn away. My girlfriend’s family were not trying to score. Culture tends to be horribly subjective at times. For them, any bastard child came with a price tag.
ZULU LOVE LETTER
Eventually my dad convinced my mom it was the right thing to do. This time I could not and was not going to represent myself. I felt I had proved my point and I also wanted to observe some parts of tradition. My girlfriend’s family sent us a letter detailing when the meeting would occur. I was barred from attending unless they so wished. Strangely enough the actual negotiating of the amounts happened prior to the meeting, which was more a formality. I was expected to pay about (you wish).
Writer: Vus Ngxande